[OPE-L:3024] Re: Re: empirical verification of interpretations of Marx?

From: JERRY LEVY (jlevy@sescva.esc.edu)
Date: Fri May 05 2000 - 18:18:24 EDT

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Re Steve K's [OPE-L:3022]:

I believe you misunderstood the questions I was posing in relation to
the Mattick Jr. quote. In that quote Paul M was making a *very strong*
claim: that Marx began with the commodity because that is "the most
elementary with respect to capitalist society *as theorized by
classical theory*" (the emphasis was in the original). In my view,
this is bending the stick way too far in support of Paul's anti-
Hegelian stance that *Capital* is _only_ a critique of political
economy. So, I wanted to put his claim to a "test". Thus, one
could begin by asking whether Marx indicated that he began with the
commodity *because* it is the most elementary category *theorized
by political economy*. The answer to that question is: No, he never
said that. Next, one could ask whether classical theory uses the
commodity as the starting point of their analysis and presentation.
Yet, as I pointed out in a recent post, Smith begins with the
division of labor rather than the commodity, Ricardo begins with
value rather than the commodity, James Mill begins with production
rather than the commodity, and J.S. Mill begins with the "requisites
of production" ("labor and appropriate natural objects") rather
than the commodity. Moreover, as Marx points out in the very quote
you have just shared with us, the commodity is *not* the simplist
category theorized by classical theory. I conclude from the foregoing
that Paul M's strong claim must be rejected.

As for Patrick's post, he raises some interesting issues ... although
they were not necessarily the issues that I was raising (in response
to Andrew K). I agree with Patrick that our focus should not be
exclusively on what Marx wrote, but I nonetheless think that when that
issue is being debated, i.e. when there is a debate that relates
entirely to different interpretations of Marx (as in the current
debate between Fred and Andrew), then one should *at least* ask
whether it is possible to establish "empirical" criteria for
accessing the opposing claims. This *must be*, as a history of
thought question, be addressed independently from claims regarding
whose theory is best able to explain capitalist reality. This
*must be* the case because we can not assume beforehand that Marx's
theory is best able to explain the empirical developments since
his time. For example, some *variation* on Marx's theory might
better explain certain empirical/historical developments than
Marx's theory itself. In other words, we have to always try to
be clear when we are *just* discussing an interpretation of Marx
(as Andrew and Fred are doing now) from when we are discussing
*more than* an interpretation of Marx (e.g. empirical and
scientific developments since Marx's time. Thus, I have no
objection to constructing the type of tanle that Patrick
suggests but don't think that it really answers the specific issue
that is being debated.

In solidarity, Jerry

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